Chapter no 26

These Infinite Threads (This Woven Kingdom, 2)

CYRUS STILL CLUNG TO HER, his cheek pressed heavily against her chest, but his effort to transport them appeared to have drained the dregs of his energy, for he’d fallen asleep once more. He did not stir; he said not a word; and she could feel his deep, even breaths against her skin.

Inch by agonizing inch she drew away from him, carefully disentangling their limbs. He resisted at first, making incoherent sounds of protest, but he soon accepted his empty arms even as he frowned in his sleep. She watched him shift a bit, trying to get comfortable, and soon his hand slid up the silk sheet of his pillow, just as he’d done with her leg.

A rush of air left her lungs.

Perhaps her overwrought nerves could finally recover. They were safely back in the palace, Cyrus was in bed, he no longer seemed to be in danger of kissing her, and now all she had to do was sneak out and slink back to her own quarters—which was much easier said than done, for this palace was enormous and terrifyingly vertiginous. Alizeh had no idea where her rooms were positioned relative to his, but compared with all else, this seemed a simple enough problem to solve. First, she’d need to figure out how to exit Cyrus’s room without notice, and then she’d have to make certain to avoid running into Sarra, who’d no doubt want to discuss Alizeh’s progress on the path to murdering her son. Should she manage all this, Alizeh would only need to ask a few nosy, gossiping servants for directions to her room, all the while hoping the uninitiated among them would neither question who she was nor ask about the bloodstain on her skirt.


With a quiet groan, she surreptitiously slid off the bed, but then, glancing back at Cyrus, she hesitated.

She knew better than to think his intoxicated actions tonight were indicative of some larger shift in their relationship. Cyrus had told her quite plainly just hours ago that he hated her, and the nosta had confirmed this. They’d enjoyed some reluctant and surprising moments of friendship, but she didn’t think it was enough to erase such passionate feelings of loathing, not when the agreement between them was meant to end with murder.

Still, Alizeh was too reasonable to deny that, despite her many practical objections, she was intensely aware of Cyrus; there was no questioning that she felt a baffling, magnetic pull between their bodies. Then again, that didn’t mean she trusted him.

And right now, she feared for him.

For two hours the devil had put him through seven levels of hell, and apparently it wasn’t his first time. She doubted it would be the last. And while she knew Iblees had taken notice of her concern for Cyrus, she felt there was nothing to be done for it; Alizeh didn’t see the effectiveness in pretending to reverse what had already been set in motion; the devil was not stupid. She would never be convincing enough to trick him into thinking otherwise. Alizeh did care. Ice ran through her veins, yes, but it had never made her coldhearted. She’d sat there and borne witness to Cyrus’s suffering. She’d cried for him.

And now, no matter the devil’s machinations—no matter the incomprehensible state of things between she and the perplexing king— Alizeh was too tenderhearted to abandon his battered, brutalized body without a touch of mercy.

With a sigh, she walked over to his side of the bed, studying his strained expression, the dried blood caking his garments. Cyrus still wore his boots, his sword belt, his dense black coat. She saw the glimmer of a sheathed blade resting heavily against his leg and knew he must be terribly uncomfortable. Gone was the softness in his face earlier rendered by sleep; he’d been grumpy since she’d pulled away from him, and his shoulders had tensed all over again, even in slumber.

When she closed her eyes, she still saw him bleeding. She could hear him weep.

Gently, she drew her hand along the vamp of one sleek, black boot, the craftsmanship of the maker displayed in every inch of the buttery leather. With careful movements, she tugged up the hem of Cyrus’s dark trousers until she uncovered a swath of warm, golden skin dusted with his coppery

hair. Focusing her eyes on the buckle she’d sought out, she unfastened the boot easily, then slid the supple article free from his socked foot, also black. Alizeh took the heavy boot into her hand and examined it, helpless to admire the careful, even stitches, the evidence of hours and hours of hard labor, even as she set it down. She repeated the process once more, on his other foot, and once done, she placed the sturdy pair neatly against the wall. Then, delicately, she drew one of Cyrus’s arms away from his pillow, and gingerly tugged it free of its coat sleeve. She intended to roll him onto his alternate side, hoping to replicate the action on his other arm, when he suddenly jolted. He drew a violent breath and sat up like a springy child’s toy, startled just as he’d been in the flower field. This time, however, Alizeh knew what to expect. She knew he wasn’t truly awake, and she would avoid

being drawn into ephemeral conversations with him.

She doubted he’d remember much of this.

“Alizeh.” He blinked blearily, studying her with red, glassy eyes. There was a desperation in his voice when he said, “Why did you leave me?”

His words were like a shot to the heart.

With effort, she pushed aside this aching sensation, knowing that what he’d provoked in her was the work of a ghost. Never would she have expected an uninhibited version of Cyrus to be so emotional or affectionate, but then—she didn’t actually know what she was dealing with, or what, exactly, he was going through.

Whatever it was, this was not the real Cyrus.

“Will you help me?” she said instead. “I was trying to take off your coat.”

He said nothing, just looked at her, then at himself, partly divested of his jacket. In stark, childlike motions he removed the rest of the article, then shoved the garment halfheartedly away from himself. It toppled, with a slithering sound, to the floor.

Alizeh promptly scooped this up into her arms, surprised by its weight, and draped it carefully on the back of a nearby chair. She turned around just in time to see Cyrus ripping off his shirt.

Like dew in winter, she froze.

He’d pulled the dark article up over his head, his face disappearing as his naked upper body came suddenly, shockingly into view, and Alizeh, who’d not realized how she was staring, did not stir until she heard the ragged sound of her own breathing. Good God.

Cyrus was powerful.

She didn’t know how else to describe the sight of him, stripped down to his skin. She didn’t know how to fathom into words the corded muscle that moved as he stretched, the sinewy lines of his body that snaked all the way down his torso. He gleamed in the soft light, the shadows carving him into a wonder so substantial she was disturbed by a sudden, stupid desire to touch him, to see what he might feel like under her hand.

Cyrus paid her no attention.

He pulled the shirt free, his hair suffering in the aftermath, and let the garment fall where it fell, not seeming to care for its fate. Alizeh watched him in a daze as he moved, riveted by the motions of his arms as he unbuckled his sword belt, marveling at the tension in the muscles flexing across his body, the tightly restrained power behind even his slightest movements. He let the precious holster and its weapon fall to the ground with a clatter, and Alizeh, who’d been in something of a trance, nearly jumped a foot in the air at the sound. But it was when he began unbuttoning his trousers that she turned sharply around with a stifled cry, covering her entire face with her hands.

Oh, she was ashamed of herself.

She’d been gawking at him brazenly, like an unprincipled deviant, her heart beating like the wings of a hummingbird, so fast it was making her feel ill. Heavens, but she’d forgotten herself. She was not an unprincipled deviant. She did not ogle the naked bodies of men under the influence of dark magic.

“Alizeh?” she heard him say.

She made an effort to moderate her voice, but did not turn around. “Yes?”

Alizeh,” he said again, this time softly scolding.

“Are you,” she said tremulously, “are you decent?” She heard the low rumble of his laugh. “Yes.”

Terrified, she turned around in slow motion. She discovered him still sitting up but was relieved beyond reason to find that he’d pulled the blanket around his lower body.

“Hello,” she whispered, lifting a hand in greeting, like the veriest idiot. He only looked at her in response, looked at her with manifest desire,

his gaze darkening as he watched her, like he wanted to devour her. His

eyes raked her face and body until she felt a liquid heat roil through her, tension coiling taut in her stomach. She took an unsteady step back.

“Come here,” he said roughly.

“N-No,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t— I— Cyrus, you’re very tired.”

She watched his chest expand as he breathed, his eyes closing even as he fought it. “I want you,” he said, weakening in that familiar, sudden manner. “Next to me.”

“I’ll come back,” she lied, her heart pounding in her ears. “You rest here until I return.”

He rolled his neck, stretching tense muscles as he sighed. He sank down a few inches, his head perilously close to his pillow. “Alizeh,” he whispered, even as his lashes fluttered, his exhaustion proving unconquerable. “Don’t lie to me.”

She said nothing to this, not knowing how to respond. She only clasped her hands tightly against her stomach, feeling herself tying ever more tightly into knots.

Finally, like slowly sinking sediment, Cyrus’s heavy body succumbed. He slid with a soft hush against his sheets, his head hitting the soft down of his pillow. He did not lift his weary arms to draw the blanket above his shoulders, but here was where Alizeh walked away, for the truth was she’d reached her limit the moment Cyrus had removed his shirt.

She swallowed.

It wasn’t right to be so attracted to a man she was meant to kill. Besides, Cyrus had no idea what he was doing. He was out of his head, his common sense dimmed by something dangerous. If he had any idea of the things he’d said to her— If he had any idea how he’d been acting around her—

Just then came a sharp knock at the door.

Alizeh bit back a shriek, her heart resuming its desperate pounding. She heard the soft call of a maid’s voice, asking for leave to enter, and looked desperately at Cyrus, who didn’t stir.

The servant called out again.

Alizeh knew what happened next. She’d been that snoda. For a brief window in the evening, during which time the occupants of a house were expected to be downstairs for dinner, a servant would come into a room to stoke the fire, refresh the linens, and attend to small tasks. The protocol was

to ask permission thrice, waiting each time for a response before accepting silence as tacit consent to cross the threshold.

One more knock, and the snoda would enter the room.

The maid would almost certainly have a heart attack—and worry dearly for her job—once she discovered the undressed king lying in his bed, but it would be at least a minute or two before the snoda reached this chamber, Alizeh was realizing, for Cyrus, as sovereign, likely lived in the largest and most opulent wing in the castle. There had to be at least several large rooms between the bedchamber and the entrance.

Which meant she might have just enough time to hide. Frantically, she whipped around.

Angels above, if she were discovered in the king’s bedchamber—if she were even discovered in his rooms—the scandal would no doubt disseminate through the empire in under an hour. She’d either be expected to marry him or be denounced as a harlot; either way the repercussions would horribly complicate her life.

Alizeh had learned her lesson this afternoon: there were Jinn working in this palace, and not only were they ready and eager to spread news about her, but she couldn’t rely on her invisibility to help her now, for those efforts worked only on Clay eyes. Perhaps if she found Cyrus’s dressing room, she might hide in his closet—

But when she heard the door open, a moment later, her mind went blank. She bolted down the hall and yanked open the first door she could find.

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